Disclaimer: This post contains details of sexual assault.
It’s late 2017. We have a president whose admittance of sexual assault has been caught on camera. We have the hashtag #metoo hitting viral status on all social media outlets, in which (mostly) women simply say, “Me, too,” to share that they’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, though some bravely share their tales. Now, we’re in the throes of victims stepping forward and accusing high-profile celebrities and politicians of past abuses; a day hasn’t gone by lately without a new story coming out.
I’m thrilled that this is being pushed to the forefront. Our society’s rape culture disgusts me, and the conversation needs to happen. But I’m also triggered beyond belief, more than I thought I would be 13 years after my assault, and my anger has been simmering under the surface.
Tonight, my husband of nearly 7 years asked me what my experience has been with sexual harassment. He’d never asked, and I’d never thought to tell him because I wanted to spare him discomfort. I’d never told anyone, actually.
For years, I’ve reflected on my mistakes. I shouldn’t have dated an older boy. I shouldn’t have been naked in his bed. I had no business doing adult things as a sophomore in high school.
But what I largely neglected to consider was his mistake: a few times, at least twice, during romantic relations, he tried to force his penis inside of me. He pressed himself up against my vagina as I pushed him away.
The boundary was clearly, permanently drawn that I wasn’t interested in intercourse.
I never said yes.
I said no.
He’d stop, but try again. Without asking if it was OK, with a hopeful look on his face that this time it would be OK.
I didn’t like him acting this way. I knew he loved me (oh, naivete), and that he didn’t mean to upset me, he just really wanted sex. Boys will be boys, right? So I shrugged it off and trusted that he understood that I would do some things with him, but not all things.
But he did it again. Another weekend, another tryst in his bedroom in his father’s house. Again, I was bothered but ultimately dismissed his terrible behavior as just being a jerk.
Time went by. He went to college and eventually dumped me. We agreed to be friends, which of course didn’t last — he bullied my best friend and called her a slut because she’d lost her virginity. The irony isn’t lost on me…
Now, years later, I’m angry.
I’m angry that I didn’t realize the severity of what he did. Who knows what he’s done to girls since me. I’m angry that I didn’t raise hell and make it clear to him that his behavior was astronomically wrong, swear at him, squeal my tires as I left his house.
My husband was shocked. He knew the relationship had left a bitter taste in my mouth, but I don’t think he expected this. He’s always known me to be staunchly feminist, so I think a large part of why I never told him was shame — the woman he knows wouldn’t have let that happen to her, right? I’ve been embarrassed by what I perceived to be weakness. In reality, it was shock and lack of power. I found myself at his disposal, and that anything I got, I asked for merely by being nude.
My husband’s eyes got wide as I told him about that relationship. He apologized a lot, though he didn’t owe me one. We talked a lot about current events and that the news is dominated by sexual assault, how he viewed women as a teenager and young adult, why he viewed them that way, and ultimately, how this poison in society can change. And why it needs to change.
We’ve tasked ourselves with raising three members of the next generation. They need to learn consent and its importance; that they are owed and owe nothing sexually to anyone, ever; that badgering and persuading someone into a relationship is actually harassment; the list continues.
There are strength in numbers. Speaking out collectively, whether one shares their story or not, is necessary for change. This issue needs to be put on blast to break the status quo. Today’s children deserve a more peaceful adulthood, and so does each generation after that.